When I was 9 years old, my 3th grade teacher told our class that the jobs we would have someday probably didn’t even exist yet. That was back in 1994, when we tied up the house land line and endured a ritual of modem static to check our email. When a download rate of 5kb/sec was pretty freakin’ sweet, and Super Nintendo fans will remember the game releases of Super Metroid and Final Fantasy IV (III in the US). The nine-year-old me certainly didn’t foresee a future where I could professionally engage in a completely virtual environment, and yet, my teacher spoke truth, and here I am.
Advances in technology have allowed for all kinds of awesome innovations. Seriously. 3D-printing!? Crazy-awesome! Artificial Intelligence!? Scary-cool! I continue to be floored by all of it. However, it’s the advances in communication that have directly impacted my life the most. Walking down the street, I can shoot a video with my phone of a hawk dive-bombing a rabbit AND post it on Facebook in a matter of seconds for the world to see. It’s this level of technology that allows Tech Guys to exist in the clouds, rather than cubicles, and over the next 10 years, I’m confident more and more businesses will be adopting work forces that can operate from any computer with an internet connection.
I knew it was the perfect environment for me, when I joined a team call on the train ride home to Indiana from a trip to Colorado, and Mike Cline commented, “Dude, I didn’t even know you were traveling!” The freedom change up my physical surroundings in a profound way (it doesn’t get much more extreme in the US than going from corn fields to the Rocky Mountains) didn’t stop me from putting in my usual work-load. I don’t have to worry that being in the same specific location from 9am-5pm Monday-Friday will prevent me from seizing life-opportunities outside of that limit. However, as awesome as it is to have complete location independence, there are some challenges that come with it.
Tech Guys prides itself on replacing the unethical IT dude who plays WoW all day instead of doing his job, and as often as that happens in a traditional office environment, you can certainly imagine how easy it is to check out and neglect your responsibilities in a completely virtual setting. There is no manager pacing the halls and glancing at your screen to ensure you stay on task and certainly no ethical way to fully monitor a worker’s computer activity. Even the non-malicious interruptions of letting the dog out, traveling or caring for our children can add up to a ton of distraction to the undisciplined, location-independent contractor. This forces us to have high hiring and staffing standards, and to scrutinize the quality of the work individuals deliver as well as the time it takes to do it. Our KPI tracking has to be spot on and dialed in so we can gauge our engagement levels with raw data and not bodies in chairs. Essentially, all that fancy KPI tracking that many new companies out there would like to get around to implementing some day, Tech Guys has been forced to adopt from day one out of sheer necessity.
Depending on your personality, this isn’t even a problem to begin with. While we may be fully connected electronically, and capable of live Voip conference calls with video, for most of us, these tools still don’t quite emulate the camaraderie of collaborating with a live human being sitting next to you. My solution? Exercise that freedom to travel. Since I first joined Tech Guys last October, I have traveled to Orlando and New Orleans to meet fellow contractors in person who I connect with daily. I lived with these guys for over a week and got to know them as people more than just co-workers. I’ve also hosted and hung out with seven co-workers passing through my small town in Northern Indiana with an eighth swinging by in a couple weeks. We plug in and work during the day, then play board games and drink beer in the evenings. As with any business, there’s no real expectation that we befriend those we work with, but the level of intention required to meet and shake hands with people that regularly connect from 1,000 miles away makes these relationships deeper and more interesting.
Having had a generous taste of location independence, I have a difficult time imagining myself working in any other way. The technology to operate this way is there for any industry I would care to involve myself in, and if it isn’t…well, maybe building that infrastructure would make for a fun business venture. I mean really, putting on pants to go to work is soooo 2004.